Fortunately, most of us have not had to deal directly with avian influenza. But, if you have been in the poultry business for any length of time, then you have probably had to cope with the unpleasant realities of a highly infectious disease organism of some sort. I worked in the turkey industry in the Shenandoah Valley for 11 years, right after the avian influenza outbreak of the early 1980s and before the outbreak this century. Based on all the stories that I have been told by friends and former colleagues, I am just glad I didn’t pick up any of this information by being there.
I did have the misfortune of seeing the negative impact of an infectious poultry disease first hand when I moved to North Carolina. We had poult enteritis mortality syndrome (PEMS) in our part of the state. We eventually figured out how to eradicate the disease from our area. We learned that in our locale, because of the proximity of neighboring farms, depopulation, clean up and restocking of individual farms didn’t work. We had to coordinate with our local competitor and depopulate whole “neighborhoods” and not put birds back on any of the farms until they were all clean. This strategy worked, but we figured it out a little too late.
I am happy to say that my old complex is still in operation, but as a broiler complex. The experience that we all went through here in our corner of North Carolina gives me great empathy for what poultry growers and everyone else associated with the live and processing sides of the poultry industry are going through in areas of the country currently affected by avian influenza. The only place a poultry person wants to see a bird die is after the neck cutter at the processing plant. Losing birds on the farm is never fun. I am sure there are a lot of good poultry people worried about their farms, their jobs and their livelihoods in general right now.
One thing that I know for sure, as does anyone else who has been through one of these infectious disease outbreaks in the past, itis going to get better. People in this business are resilient and resourceful. We will figure this out and take the necessary steps to move forward. Undoubtedly, the way we do business is going to change somewhat, but in the poultry business change is constant and it always gets better. I promise.